update deskSchools & Higher Education

University of Utah ‘one of most Jewish friendly,’ says rabbi, after student letter to the contrary

The board of the student group, Hillel for Utah, had cited “increasingly hostile rhetoric facing Jews on campus” since Oct. 7.

Red Butte Garden and Arboretum at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
Red Butte Garden and Arboretum at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Photo by Menachem Wecker.

After a student group alleged in a University of Utah student paper that antisemitic rhetoric is growing “increasingly hostile” on campus, the public research university and a Chabad rabbi on campus told JNS that is not the case.

Hillel for Utah noted in a Jan. 31 letter to The Daily Utah Chronicle that there has been “increasingly hostile rhetoric facing Jews on campus” after Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel.

The student group’s board also cited a Nov. 15 editorial published in the paper titled “Stand with Palestine, Now and Forever,” and an incident in November, reported by the local media outlet KUER 90.1, when the group’s president, Asher Ireland, experienced students yelling “free Palestine” at him while he prayed on campus.

Jewish students have been told that they are “supporting genocide” in response to the situation of Palestinians in Gaza, and Israel’s war against Hamas, and Jewish students have removed kippahs and Star of David necklaces, the student group wrote.

JNS sought comment from Hillel for Utah’s managing director and didn’t hear back at press time. After the article ran, Asher Ireland, the group’s president, told JNS that there have been “several” instances of antisemitism “beyond the incident available online that have been reported to the university and are working their way through the university system but are not public at this point.”

Students in the group “are generally concerned and scared, although many have gone back to proudly wearing their kippot and Magen Davids,” Ireland said. “We are grateful that unlike many other universities across the United States, we have not seen an escalation in violence on campus.” 

Rabbi Moshe Nigri, director of the Chabad at the university, told JNS that the University of Utah is “a very safe place, with almost no antisemitic incidents.” He praised the university faculty and its president Taylor Randall, “who is a very good friend of the Chabad rabbis and the Jewish community in general.”

Nigri told JNS that he sets up a table with Chabad resources on campus every week. “I’ve had a few, not many, antisemitic incidents, like people screaming ‘free Palestine,’” while he was helping a student don tefillin, “or coming to tell me that Israel is an apartheid state and genocide,” he told JNS. “We, thank God, didn’t have any worse cases than the above cases.”

“I would proudly say that compared to all other campuses in America, we are one of the most Jewish-friendly and welcoming universities,” he added.

Rebecca Walsh, the university’s director of communications and public relations, told JNS that the school “takes these reports very seriously and encourages all members of our campus community—students, faculty and staff—to report incidents of biased or hateful behavior. Every time.”

“If students are afraid to be on our campus or feel they are not being heard, that is always a concern,” she added.

Nigri told JNS that the state is “a very welcoming place to the Jewish community.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox participated in a pro-Israel solidarity rally in October, the rabbi noted. “From the people who live in Utah to the governor of Utah, all are very respectful,” Nigri said. “I’ve never had any antisemitic incidents walking on the streets with a yarmulke and tzitzis and even doing religious events in public.”

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